Last Friday, I embarked on a tour of Eastern Europe. For my first stop, I arranged a portrait photoshoot with the Ukrainian Olga, who studies in Warsaw. The idea for the shooting was to walk around the city and shoot wherever we would find a suitable spot. In other words, the photos should not include a studio background, but the Polish capital.
For such an enterprise, the question "What to take with me?" arises. There was no discussion about the EOS 6D and the EF 85 1.8 USM and EF 50 1.8 STM lenses. Having read various discussions about the pros and cons of the 85 and the EF 70-200 2.8 for portrait purposes, I carefully thought about taking the latter, as it would add a considerable amount of weight to the bag. I finally decided to take it with me as I was really keen on trying it for portrait, which I had scarcely done. Moreover, the shoot was sceduled for three hours only.
For outside shootings, I have made good experiences with the Yongnuo YN 685 Speedlite, which has a built-in radio receiver. The corresponding transmitter simply sits on the flash shoe of the camera. The two big benefits of this system (e.g. compared to standard studio flashguns) are highspeed sync and the ability to change the strength of the flash directly from the transmitter on the camera without having to walk to the flash. The latter is especially beneficial when working with the 70-200 as you are quite far away from the light.
That leaves the question of the light modifier. In the past, I simply took an umbrella. Light, easy to set up and I never really complained about its quality of light. I always carried it around in a bag that also contained the light stand. As this always meant a second bag, I wanted something else this time. My previous shootings never included much walking around. I bought a Walimex light stand that folds to a size that fits in my suitcase and lets it sit on the outside of my Lowerpro Flipside 400 AW camera bag without extending far above or below it. For the light modifier, I wanted something like a foldable softbox.
This modifier should of course also fit in my camera bag. That excluded soft boxes or similar items with large diameter. Only doing portrait, this would be sufficient because I wanted to use a lot of natural light to include the background. For this purpose, I only needed to slightly light the face (and cleavage), the rest of the body (if in the frame at all) would be covered in clothes and get enough natural light.
I came across a device that looks like a giant pancake, two circles, about 3 inches apart from each other. One circle is made from the same material they use for the parts of softboxes where the light has to pass through, the other side and the material in between is black on the outside and silver (reflecting) on the inside. Between the circles is a hole to put in your speedlite. I bought the 16 inch version which folds to about 5-6 inches and easily fits in my camera bag as it is not wide in diameter, even folded.
This device provided fantastic soft light without any shadows and was very flattering for Olga's beautiful face.
In my opinion, I found the perfect kit for outdoor portrait shootings. Of course it takes a while to set up, pack, set up again several times, but it was not that much of an effort. In addition, the weight proved to be not too much for a couple of hours. I would not take the 70-200 2.8 on a longer tour. There is always the option to leave the heavy lens at home/in your hotel room (make sure you have a photo equipment ensurance!) and get it later should you need it.
Finally, did I need the 70-200 2.8? Some people say it is better to have a lens longer than the usual 85/100 portrait focal lengths for shots that (almost) fully frame the head because it provides for a better rendition of the facial proportions, therefore the same reason why you should not take upper body portraits with a wide-angle lens.
I have not quite compared my images properly to comment on that. What is true of course is that you can influence how much of the background will be seen in the image, as you can clearly see if you compare the previous with the next picture.
With 'how much of the background' I predominantly mean how wide or narrow the image is framed, in this case, how many bricks you can see on the wall. The overall effect of the image can be totally different. You can also notice the different level of background blur, even though the latter picture was taken with f/4.0 as opposed to f/2.8 for the one above it.
I not only enjoyed using my new set of equipment, but also walking around Warsaw with Olga. This is truly catching the beauty of a city! She was also easy to get along with, funny and spontaneous. The shooting tour ended with a few drinks in a nice bar.
I am looking forward to your comments.